Elizabeth Wang (USGA photo)
KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn. (Aug. 8, 2018) – For many players, the beauty of match play – especially in a USGA championship – is in the possibilities it holds. It’s effectively a championship restart that allows for crazy things to happen. On Wednesday at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, that included the first-round defeat of the World No. 2 player, the U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up and last year’s Women’s Amateur runner-up. A 56-year-old held her own against a 21-year-old and a mid-amateur is still vying to become the first player over 25 to win a U.S. Amateur in 40 years.
Overall, it was an eventful day.
The biggest headline among those was easily Jennifer Kupcho bowing out. The reigning NCAA champion, who is ranked No. 2 in the world, lost to 18-year-old Elizabeth Wang in extra holes.<
Kupcho ultimately lost the match on the 19th hole when she hit her approach long and it rolled down a steep slope. She made par but left Wang with a 10-footer for birdie. Wang seemed to will that putt in, and fist-pumped excitedly half a second after she realized she’d be advancing over such a decorated player.
“Jennifer is an amazing player, and actually we knew each other because I used to live in Colorado, so we always played junior tournaments together,” said Wang, who now lives in San Marino, Calif. “It was great to be able to play with a friend, especially since we only see each other once a year now for amateur tournaments.”
Wang’s strong play wasn’t really that surprising considering she made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open earlier this summer. She’s headed to Harvard in the fall.
While Kupcho was the first top player to fall, Alexa Pano went down right after her. Pano was runner-up to Yealimi Noh two weeks ago at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, but lost to Isabella Fierro, 3 and 1, on Wednesday. Pano actually beat Fierro on her way to that championship match, so this victory was redemption for Fierro.
Noh, by the way, is quite possibly the hottest player in women’s amateur golf right now, having won in the three consecutive weeks leading up to the Women’s Amateur. She won her match, 2 up, though USC junior Allisen Corpuz made her work for it. Corpuz was all square with Noh as late in the match as No. 15.
After six tries at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Lauren Greenlief made it to match play this week for the first time. She won her first-round match with Thienna Huynh, 3 and 2, to keep advancing.
Farther down the bracket, there were back-to-back matches against some of the country’s best collegians. Arizona frontwoman Bianca Pagdanganan, playing in her first USGA event, took down Stanford’s Albane Valenzuela, who represented Switzerland in the Olympic golf tournament and was runner-up here a year ago.
“I'm just going to keep the same mindset as today, just stick to the game plan and take it shot by shot,” Pagdanganan said of her mindset going into the Round of 32. “That's what's important about match play because it's anyone's game and anything can happen. So just pay close attention to that, try to stay in the present.”
Behind that, Sierra Brooks, entering her second year at Florida, defeated incoming Texas freshman Hailee Cooper, 2 and 1. Brooks was runner-up in this event three years ago before fading away with an injury. She’s authoring a comeback that could take her far this week.
Brooks birdied three of the final four holes in her match to win.
“It started on No. 14, the par 3,” Brooks said. “I stuck one to like 5 feet and made that for birdie and finally got some momentum, and from there was able to finish it off and just keep it going. I hit a lot of good shots coming in.”
In one of the final matches of the day, Ellen Port, 56, fought valiantly against Arkansas powerhouse Dylan Kim, only to lose 4 and 3. Kim, a long and smooth hitter, got Port, a gritty and experienced competitor, 2 down after four, but Port held that margin through 12. Kim won the next two holes to seal it.
Round of 32 matches
7 a.m. - Lucy Li, Redwood Shores, Calif. (133) vs. Alice Duan, Reno, Nev. (141)
7:10 a.m. - Ya Chun Chang, Chinese Taipei (139) vs. Brooke Seay, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. (139)
7:20 a.m. - Bailey Tardy, Peachtree Corners, Ga. (138) vs. Yealimi Noh, Concord, Calif. (142)
7:30 a.m. - Janet Mao, Johns Creek, Ga. (138) vs. Kristen Gillman, Austin, Texas (140)
7:40 a.m. - Jaclyn Lee, Canada (136) vs. Patty Tavatanakit, Thailand (140)
7:50 a.m. - Megan Schofill, Monticello, Fla. (143) vs. Elizabeth Wang, San Marino, Calif. (139)
8:00 a.m. - Isabella Fierro, Mexico (144) vs. Emilee Hoffman, Folsom, Calif. (141)
8:10 a.m. - Madison Caldwell, Milton, Ga. (143) vs. Kaylee Benton, Litchfield Park, Ariz. (139)
8:20 a.m. - Hyun Selin, Republic of Korea (133) vs. Lauren Stephenson, Lexington, S.C. (141)
8:30 a.m. - Yuka Saso, Philippines (143) vs. Haley Moore, Escondido, Calif. (142)
8:40 a.m. - Lauren Greenlief, Ashburn, Va. (137) vs. Alyaa Abdulghany, Newport Beach, Calif. (140)
8:50 a.m. - Elizabeth Moon, Forrest City, Ark. (138) vs. Annabell Fuller, England (140)
9:00 a.m. - Olivia Mehaffey, Northern Ireland (135) vs. Jiwon Jeon, Republic of Korea (141)
9:10 a.m. - Bianca Pagdanganan, Philippines (138) vs. Sierra Brooks, Lake Mary, Fla. (139)
9:20 a.m. - Suzuka Yamaguchi, Japan (136) vs. Beatrice Wallin, Sweden (141)
9:30 a.m. - Dylan Kim, Sachse, Texas (138) vs. Gurleen Kaur, Houston, Texas (142)